Research has revealed that on Twitter, political disinformation clouds Kenya’s trending topics. It appears that the use of social media may be contributing to a latent propensity for authoritarianism. For instance, in the case of Kenya, social media has been used to make people angry while monetizing it. This is also a problem given the power of social media to amplify and optimize hate speech and false information.
Social media has a profound impact on the way we view politics, and its effect on authoritarian regimes is significant. While disinformation and polarizing news are not the same, they are important ingredients in the emergence of authoritarian regimes. These social networks connect people of all political beliefs, including white supremacists and radical Buddhist monks in Myanmar.
Recent studies suggest that social media is not only a major force in the rise of authoritarianism, but also an important factor in the decline of liberal democracies. In some states, social media can ignite a revolution while in other places it can empower populist candidates. In some countries, social media influences the electoral process and may promote authoritarianism. In illiberal democracies, social media can weaken democratic institutions, and can influence the political system.
Researchers have shown that individuals’ authoritarian tendencies are influenced by their genetic disposition and their early socialization. Yet they also depend on the social context they currently experience. Contextual and situational influences shape their immediate lives and form the lifelong socialization experience. These factors may change over time. Despite this, the authors’ work has highlighted that authoritarianism is a complex and dynamic trait that is influenced by socialization, culture, and personal history.
Regardless of the motivation for authoritarian regimes, social media is a powerful communication tool that can be used by the governing regime or malign external forces to manipulate the public’s perception. Social media platforms lack robust fact-checking mechanisms and often propagate false information. In short, social media promotes populist ideas and undermines democratic pillars. They also amplify polarization and conspiracy theories.
The news media are monetizing rage with the aid of political disinformation, and this new model has a profound effect on the way news outlets report on current events. Whereas the old advertising model incentivized news outlets to present an unfavorable view of the world, the new model rewards readers for remaining engaged and expressing their anger. In fact, the most effective way to monetize engagement on the Internet is to generate anger and hatred, usually directed at a particular group or person. Postjournalism is a rage-driven model with a great deal of potential.
Over the last several years, angry radicalized individuals have appeared across the globe. From New Zealand to El Paso, Texas, to Poway, California, the broader population is being exposed to more hateful and false content. Twitter has taken steps to remove hate speech from its platform, but it has a long way to go before it is truly effective. The current policy doesn’t go nearly far enough.